So you want to be a writer

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob -


IF YOU always dreamed of writing a novel, your memoirs or any nonfiction book, this is the time to take the plunge. With so many restrictions still in place because of the pandemic, writing offers an escape, a sense of fulfilment and an opportunity for self-reflection in the safety of your home. Even if you are a seasoned writer, my favourite books about the craft of writing, which are listed below, will help you reach the next level of your writing.

1. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Procrastination, self-doubt and writer’s block are a writer’s biggest challenges. In this beautifully written memoir, Hemingway speaks of his own struggle with writing. Looking back at his early writing life in Paris, Hemingway shows how writers summon the courage to face the blank page.

2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – Now a modern classic, King’s advice about writing felt shocking and fresh when first published 20 years ago. His candid advice about writing, delivered in a casual tone, offered comfort and encouragement. King’s musings on the role of memory in writing are especially important and helpful.

3. Story Craft by Jack Hart – While browsing in writer Ann Patchett’s Parnassus book store in Nashville, Tennessee, a couple of years ago, I stumbled on Ellen B Meacham reading her book Delta Epiphany: Robert F Kennedy in Mississippi. Meacham spoke of how Hart’s book guided her through the transition from writing fiction to writing nonfiction. This is the best book I have discovered that addresses structuring nonfiction and the effective use of the elements of fiction in nonfiction writing.

4. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: in Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life by George Saunders – Last year when I took a nonfiction writing class from Stanford University, the professor and many students in class raved about this book that deconstructs four famous Russian short stories. University students’ comments about these stories offer masterful insights into the way we interpret literature.

5. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde – Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, best known these days for her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, says this is the only book she recommends to writers. The Gift is not a how-to-write book. It discusses the personal and cultural value of creativity in a world that measures everything by monetary value.

6. Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – There is no better book that chronicles the creative struggle of a writer than Steinbeck’s detailed diary of his creative process while writing The Grapes of Wrath. The discipline of starting each day with a journal entry helped Steinbeck to settle into his strictly measured writing sessions. The journal offers invaluable insights into his creative process.

7. Nobel Writers on Writing Edited by Ottar G Draugsvold – Short biographies of Nobel Prize-winning writers including Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Golding, Derek Walcott, Nadine Gordimer and Toni Morrison accompany the authors’ Nobel Prize acceptance speeches. Each speech shows the author’s intentions while writing.

8. Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – This unusual guide for writing picture books for children from two to eight gives useful, creative advice for a special type of writing. It discusses everything from conceptualising and writing a picture book to publishing and the special relationship between authors of picture books and illustrators. In picture books, less is more when it comes to the ratio of writing to pictures.

9. The Making of a Story – The Norton Guide to Writing by Alice LaPlante – A huge book of 677 pages, it presents useful advice on fiction and nonfiction writing. Each chapter shows a theme that examines the craft of writing. Every chapter features a short story that illustrates the targeted theme. This book has the best skill-building writing exercises I have seen. Creative and thought-provoking writing exercises offer a chance to delve into writing experiments that just might change the way you write.

10. Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling by Philip Pullman – Best known for his fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, Pullman’s erudite essays explore the magic of writing, the importance of writing structure and the process of creative thinking. Each essay delves deep into the heart of creative writing.

There’s nothing like having a famous writer’s work to help aspiring writers face the fear and self-doubt that all writers face.


"So you want to be a writer"

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